The evening crowd filled the streets. Running through the streets of Tehran was Ahmad Abhari, and he felt that he must be the happiest fellow in the city. He had been to the Bureau of Education and on the list of those who had been accepted to the university he had seen his name. It had felt like a dream and coming out of the building he had begun to run. He wanted to feel each step he took on the ground and he wanted to hear the wind through the sounds of the city. People looked at him as though he were strange but he did not care and he smiled at them.
He was running near the square where he used to run from the police for selling the newspapers of the communist party. That was when he was thirteen and his father had first fallen sick and he had had to quit school and earn money for the family. He had sold the communist papers in the morning and the regular city papers in the afternoon.
He remembered his teacher Mr. Nazeri, who had helped him to find both of his jobs when he had had to leaved school. He wished he could tell him that he had been accepted. He remembered the last time they had seen each other, in prison. It had been wonderful. They had been so happy to see each other and afterwards they had laughed because they had each been afraid that the other would call out their real name since they had both entered under false names.
He turned a corner and ran around a boy on a bicycle. He thought of the time in prison. He thought of the men he had known there, the ones who were still there and the ones who had died there. He thought of the fellow Arsen who had had his fingers bent back by the guards and had told them that if they bent them back any further they would break and when they had broken he had looked at the guards and said, “See, I told you they would break.”
He thought of the fellow Khosrow who had refused a blindfold before going before the firing squad and had said that he wanted to see the fear in the riflemen's eyes. He believed that they had been accepted too. He believed that all the men that he had known there, living and dead, were being accepted with him.
He could have tried for the university at a younger age instead of twenty-two if he had not spent the two years going in and out of prison, but he did not know how it could have gone any other way. He thought of the poverty his own family had lived in both in their village and in the city. He thought of how it was everywhere and then there were the Shah and some others who lived lives of luxury. He did not know how he could have not gone out at night writing “Death to the Shah” on the walls, he and his friends hiding their inkwatermelonslons they carried.
He did not know how he could have done anything different when he looked at his mother's life, she having buried nine of her children back in their village, and at his father's life, the little store that his father had kept on the other side of the mountain pass, and the times when he would be attacked by robbers during the journey through the pass and he would come back home sadly but still glad that they had not killed him.
He was coming up to emptier streets now and he ran faster. He did not feel tired. His father would be there when he got home. His father tried to help by doing housework now that he could not work very much any more. Ahmad remembered when his father had done nothing but work, when his uncle and his aunt's husband had both died of cancer and the two families had moved in with them, and his father had had to support fifteen people, working day and night, wherever he could.
He remembered how his father would come home too tired to eat or talk, and he would only sit at the table and smoke cigarettes. He had not fully understood the difficulty of his father's life in those days. He knew that his father was a hard-working man but he was often angry at his father's religiousness and the backward sense of tradition that went with it.
His mother's religiousness seemed just as unnecessary to him but at least it was usually not very far from love, but for his father it meant attempting to keep his wife a step behind him as they walked down the road, and not walking with his own daughter at all because she would go out with her hair uncovered. Ahmad hated how his father did not see that he was helping to keep in place the system responsible for his own suffering when he behaved like that.
And so when he had been old enough to begin thinking earnestly of who he wanted to be, he had looked not at his father but at Mr. Nazeri. He had wanted to be in that world of reading and writing and learning, which he had gone after even after he had left school. He had wanted to be a man fighting against an unjust system instead of living as part of it. It was not until he had gone to the army, having been called to his two-year duty at nineteen, that he had begun to see that it was all over, the ignorance and injustice that he hated, it was all over and those like his father were victims more than anything else.
There was a rottenness that ran through the whole operation of society and the men like his father simply happened to be at the bottom of it. He had seen it in the army with the lavish parties that the generals threw not far from the barracks where the soldiers under his command suffered from night blindness due to lack of vitamin A in their meager diet. And he had seen it in the way the army came through the villages near their camps up in the north, treating the peasants as though they were inferior and taking advantage of them where they could.
He came to his own neighborhood. He passed the little houses with their doors open because of the heat. He wished that his mother and sister were home so that he could tell them. They were away visiting relatives. His younger brother would still be at work, he would be coming home at night from the painter Baba Ali's workshop with paint on his face and in his hair.
He felt as though something of the past was being wiped away for all of them, all of the pain and sorrow and the hunger that had been there for all of them. He did not allow himself to feel it wildly because there was a great deal of work ahead of him, but he believed that something big could happen for all of them.
There had only been one other day in his life that had felt as glad. It had been the day that nationalist forces led by Mossadegh had taken control of the government from the Shah and made him flee the country. He had been among those in the square outside the parliament building that day, chanting “Death to the Shah” and chanting in support of Mossadegh. That had been beautiful. And then he had been among those to witness the knife-wielding mobs marching down the street towards the capitol to pave the way for the Shah's return, the mobs hired by the Americans, and he had been attacked by them and seen his friends attacked by them when they had tried to mount a defense in the square.
But he knew that the time would come. He knew that the time would come and he knew that he would be a part of it. He would be a part of it as a man of education. He thought of the men he would meet at the university who believed in things the way that he did. He thought of all the books he would read by the men who had fought for the same things and gone after the same beliefs. It was going to be wonderful. All those years that he had studied on his own with whatever books he could find and taken classes at night and having even worked as a tutor himself for the sons of wealthy families, and now it was the thing that he had been working towards all that time. He came to his house. His father was sitting by an open window smoking cigarettes.
“I have been accepted to the university,” Ahmad said.
His father smiled. “That is fine news,” his father said. “How much does university pay?”
Ahmad looked away from his father and his face burned to hear his father's words and to think that he had not known that his father did not know what the university was. He would not cry, he knew that. But he saw that the past would always be with him for as long as he was alive. It was a part of him, however differently his own life might go. And it was a part that he could not forget because it was him, it was the whole thing that all his life had been directed towards and would always be directed towards.
And he knew that whatever he did achieve in life, its root would be the spirit of the people like his father, the common, simple people of the world, in their ignorance and innocence and their trying to live as best they could, and when he looked back at his father the tears that he felt behind his eyes were filled with love and so it was all right.